Tricky Tongues

1 Corinthians 14:1-17
From my Devotion

 The charismatic practice of speaking in tongues is really tricky.  Conservative scholars would say that the practice seen in many modern churches (spiritual gibberish) simply is not biblical.  However, a straightforward reading of 1 Corinthians 14 really challenges that idea.  I am the first to say that I am not the authority on this subject.  However, I have a few observation from the text.  (again, this is a straight-forward reading of the text.  I’ll contrast that with the views of John MacArthur in a moment.)

Does Speaking in Tongues Exist Biblically?   
I would say yes.  Here’s why.   Speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is described by Apostle Paul as a spiritual gift where people were supernaturally speaking (verse 2) in a language that others did not understand (verse 9) and they themselves did not understand (vs. 13-14).
– For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
– So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 
– 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

It’s really important to understand whether or not this is a legitimate understanding of the term “speaking in tongues.”  John Macarthur would disagree with my summary of the gift.  Regarding verses 2, 9, and 13-14, Macarthur suggests that Paul is speaking sarcastically.  Rather than legitimizing a practice, Paul was referring to the Corinthian’s adoption of a pagan practice.  When he says things like, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all,” he is referring to the gift of languages.  Macarthur suggests that in the original language, Paul switches back and forth in the tense of the word “tongues,” to suggest a real gift (languages) and a fake gift (gibberish).  I struggle with this interpretation.  As I grow in my understanding of Paul, I know that he uses lots of different rhetorical devices.  However, he has no problem with being forthright.   It seems like Paul is being incredibly straightforward on the subject of tongues.  I think that it takes some theological gymnastics to make the “sarcasm" argument.  That being said, John Macarthur is a lot smarter than I am.

It’s an argument that really hinges on your interpretation of verses 14-15 - 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.  In context, Paul’s stated purpose is to give his personal, summary remarks.  When he says, "if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays,” he is using the exact same singular Greek word that Macarthur believes refers to gibberish.  If you make the case that Paul is speaking sarcastically, you would have to explain why Paul states that this tense is his spirit praying.  Then, you have to look at verse 15.  He makes a personal statement:  I pray with the spirit, and I also pray with understanding.  He contrasts these.  It gives the direct connotation that there is a difference between praying in “the spirit” and with “understanding.”

Therefore, I think that that gift of tongues can bibically refer to a spiritual gibberish language.  I think we see this in how it is described, but also in how it is governed.

The use of tongues…that’ll be tomorrow’s reading. 

Aaron is the pastor of Spring of Life, a new church in Portland, Oregon. He's the owner of Amplify Creative.